Special for the Armenian Weekly
Adana Metropolitan Municipality Mayor Huseyin Sozlu instructed the municipality’s police to hang Turkish flags at the entrance of Starbucks locations across Adana on Feb. 22, in response to apologies issued by Starbucks and California-based designer Timothy Rose to the Armenian community. The apology came after the company featured a controversial photograph—depicting women wearing what appeared to be Armenian traditional costumes and standing under balloons carrying the Turkish crescent and star—in a marketing campaign around the Los Angeles area, which angered many local Armenians.
According to Turkey’s demokrathaber.net, at least five Starbucks locations throughout Adana were draped in Turkish flags.
Sozlu, a member of Turkey’s Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), a Turkish far-right political party informally known as the Grey Wolves, released a statement about his decision to hang the flags:
“As it happens every year, the Armenian Diaspora, which is prepared to make unsubstantiated accusations against our country and the Turkish nation, was able to remove posters that featured our flag from Starbucks locations in the Los Angeles area. They used the influence gained by the number of Armenians in the area. We do not find it right that [Starbucks]— by accepting the reaction of the Armenians—is becoming a party to this injustice,” read the statement. “ This year, on April 24, the Armenian Diaspora will attack the Turkish nation and Turkey with more force than in the past. They have started the year, which they see as the 100th anniversary of the alleged Armenian Genocide, with a campaign to remove our flag. We have responded to this attack by hanging our glorious flag from Starbucks shops in Adana. Our flag is sacred to us and will forever wave in every corner of our country.”
The posters that sparked this debacle were displayed at Starbucks locations throughout the Los Angeles area early on Feb. 19. The apparent attempt by Starbucks to appeal to the area’s large Armenian population proved to be a misstep for the coffee giant, as a wave of protests was quick to follow after images of the offensive poster sprung up on various social media outlets.
The Los Angeles-based Asbarez newspaper was the first to break the story about the mysterious posters, which prompted an outpour of anger in the community. After inquiries from Asbarez, a Starbucks spokesperson said that the chain has already begun the removal of the offensive posters and apologized for upsetting their customers. Speaking with the Armenian Weekly, Asbarez editor Ara Khachatourian explained that he contacted Starbucks headquarters in Seattle directly and that they were swift in their response.
“It was an interesting grassroots movement that played out online. People were angry,” said Khachatourian.
The Starbucks apology
Although it is unclear exactly how many shops displayed the photograph, Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) Executive Director Aram Hamparian believes they were displayed in at least “two or three locations in Southern California.”
“Why is Starbucks selling coffee using an image of women, dressed in traditional Armenian costumes, celebrating a Turkish state that systematically victimized Armenian women during the Armenian Genocide, and that still denies this crime against all humanity?” the ANCA wrote in a post on its Facebook page.
Soon after, Starbucks posted an apology on the ANCA’s Facebook page, promising to remove the offending photographs. The short statement read:
“Thank you to all who raised this concern to us today. Serving as a place for the community to connect is core to our business and we strive to be locally relevant in all of our stores. We missed the mark here and we apologize for upsetting our customers and the community. We have removed this art from our Mulholland & Calabasas store in Woodland Hills and are working to make this right.”
Speaking to RFE/RL, Hamparian noted that Starbucks responded quickly and appropriately. “It became very clear very quickly that this was a very serious issue for the entire community, because we started getting a flood of concern,” said Hamparian.
The photograph originated from designer Timothy Rose, whose resume includes creative design work for Coca-Cola and Nike.
On Feb. 19, Rose posted a statement on his website apologizing for the image, which he acknowledged was “rightfully offensive to the Armenian community.” The statement read:
“To all the Armenian community, I wish to apologize for the photograph taken for Starbucks in 2011. Neither I nor the photographer knew the dancers were Armenian. We were traveling around the world shooting photojournalistic images for the brand and captured this image during a festival in 2011 for Ataturk. There was no Photoshopping or models used. Once it came to my attention that this was rightfully offensive to the Armenian community, I took the image down. I am in full support of their plight and would never have knowingly supported any action that would hurt either them or cause unnecessary pain. My deepest apologies.”